Losing a sense of home: Youth prosperity in East London
17 June 2020
Hannah Sender reflects on what young people in East London mean by ‘prosperity’ and the barriers that prevent them from obtaining it
Young people in Hackney are witnessing massive changes in their communities, and this affects their ability to prosper in their own homes.
It might seem inappropriate to talk about young people’s prosperity during this period of deep uncertainty. But if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that the things we thought we needed to live a good life have been thrown into question. Now is the time to talk about what young people mean by ‘prosperity’ and the barriers that prevent them from obtaining it.
‘Home’ is often not a stable, reliable source of security
On 18 March 2020, newspapers announced that schools in the UK were to close indefinitely, and exams would be cancelled, in efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
I want to focus not on this pause in education but rather the changes happening to young people’s homes. Out of school, most young people spend most of their time in a household. But ‘home’ is often not a stable, reliable source of security. Even before COVID-19, the young people we spoke with described their ‘homes’ changing. One young woman stated that ‘they’re stripping down the estates, and people are going’. A young man said that ‘communities are falling apart’ as a result of these changes. Youth connected these changes to increases in the costs of housing, particularly rent, and local shops which served their needs going out of business.
Many low wage-earning renters, who were already struggling to pay the rent, have been pushed to breaking point by lockdown. The government has issued non-statutory guidance for landlords, asking them to show ‘support and understanding’. Although evictions have been halted, nothing has been said about what happens when people fall into rent arrears and when they should be paid back (see David Renton, ‘Becoming homeless is easily done’, London Review of Books, 42, 9).
Young people struggle with the pressures caused by increasing rents, not necessarily because they have to pay, but because their sense of ‘home’ was changing rapidly. Even if they are able to remain in Hackney, they have an acute sense these changes are causing them to lose what they value.
Asking questions about youth prosperity helps us to understand how financial issues not only impact adults. They bleed into, and affect, the lives of young people too. The consequences of pursuing a vision of prosperity based on economic growth alone is pushing young people out of their homes and out of a city which will desperately need them. The young people I’ve met with are entrepreneurs, volunteers, and aspiring professionals, who want to contribute to their communities. Now is the time to think about youth prosperity. To address what they say affects their ability to live good lives.
The experiences of uncertainty described in this blog are not an entirely new. Dealing with rapid changes in the environment and new social behaviours were the dominant themes of our research with youth charity Hackney Quest in Summer 2019.
To read more about this research, see the new working paper Hannah Sender wrote with Mohammed Abdussamad Hannan, Luke Billingham, Jordan Isaacs and Daniel Ocitti.
Image credit: Samuel Ryde, Unsplash